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Reconstruction Sentencing: Reimagining Drug Sentencing in the Aftermath of the War on Drugs
American Criminal Law Review  (IF3.455),  Pub Date : 2021-09-01, DOI:
Jelani Jefferson Exum

The year is 2020, and the world has been consumed by a viral pandemic, social unrest, increased political activism, and a history-changing presidential election. In this moment, anti-racism rhetoric has been adopted by many, with individuals and institutions pledging themselves to the work of dismantling systemic racism. If we are going to be true to that mission, then addressing the carnage of the failed War on Drugs has to be among the top priorities. The forty years of treating drug law offenders as enemies of society have left us with decimated communities and have perpetuated a biased view of individuals in those communities. Of course, the bulk of the devastation waged by the War has been borne by Black and brown families. To begin the work of repairing the damage caused by overly punitive and racially disproportionate drug law enforcement, we must make commitments to actually end the War. Moreover, we must commit to reinterpret our Constitution to protect those who suffered most from Wartime policies and those who are most vulnerable to post-War retaliation. Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has written that “few American historical periods are more relevant to understanding our contemporary racial politics than Reconstruction.” This Article argues that Reconstruction’s modern relevance goes beyond politics and is especially applicable to the criminal sentencing context where law and policy have been used to perpetuate racialized oppression. With that in mind, this Article uses the promise and pitfalls of the Reconstruction Era as a model for reimagining drug sentencing in the aftermath of the War on Drugs.